People have been following my blog! That’s awesome! My readers rock. Seriously, I have some impressive readers. Biologist painters, medical doctors with a gift for photography, C-suite women who raise beautiful kids, and readers who know how to describe psychological phenomena more vividly than I have learned in years of therapy. What would my therapist say about being jealous of someone else’s descriptions of therapy?
This is a blog about failure. Future posts will return to my usual tone, but I warn you ahead of time, levity doesn’t really describe this post. If I’m going to write honestly about failure, I must also write honestly about what it does to me. RSD spirals do eventually end, but the one I am in sure hasn’t yet! Until it does, I am handing over the reins for today’s “guest post” to the bully in my brain called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria.
First confession: I was starting to think that maybe I was semi-accomplished, too. People who write beautifully have been reading my blog, and they have been posting kind, helpful comments. It has been incredibly therapeutic to talk to people openly about my struggles. Yes, this blog is written under a pseudonym, so not technically fully open, but if in your real life you are that girl who still hasn’t even told her friends and co-workers she might have another chronic illness, it feels pretty open. Blogging has been very soothing, and exploring my readers’ words while sharing my own has really made me more confident.
Maybe too confident. I started this blog to get outside my comfort zone and to learn to tolerate RSD. Since my readers are lovely people and don’t write negative things in the comments, I foolishly decided to push the rejection envelope a little harder myself. From my readers, I’ve learned about The Mighty, a kind of Huffington Post media aggregator for mental health and chronic illness. They accept anonymously authored pieces and previously published blog pieces. Buoyed by the warm response of my readers, I adapted one of my more popular posts, Rejecting My Diagnoses: Am I Really a Spoonie?, to their guidelines.
Talk about irony. My post about trying not to reject my right to call myself a spoonie got rejected by a media hub for spoonies. Was it because I wasn’t a real spoonie, a real writer, or both? Why does my RSD even care? I meant what I said about my ambitions lying with my day job, not professional writing, so why does it matter if narrative writing isn’t my forte? It shouldn’t, but it does. That’s why this blog exists. RSD tells me today’s rejection means I should immediately delete this blog and slink away unnoticed into a corner. It tells me that I was wrong to think I could ever be decent at something, and it tells me that the universe is communicating with me via The Mighty not to delude myself.
I know, in the scheme of things, that one rejection isn’t a big deal, especially in the writing world. By itself, especially since I asked for it, a rejection letter from The Mighty might not even have triggered a full RSD spiral. Yet, it came at a time when I was already ashamed, and it was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I won’t slink away. I promised myself I wouldn’t, but it’s hard. A lifetime of failures with ADHD – with someone always there to remind you of them – isn’t easy to shed.
Second confession: my work isn’t going well this week. I may not have been C-suite before, but I was doing okay at my career earlier this year. I was daring to think maybe I could get there, ADHD and all. Now, apparently, I’m adding another chronic physical illness into the mix, and I’m slipping more at work instead of less.
I wish I didn’t get confused about what format a deliverable was supposed to be in, and share a Google doc link to a PowerPoint that had the stats and charts my boss wanted, instead of including them in an email attachment. I wish I had heard my boss say that is what he wanted. Apparently, he made the format for the deliverable clear, he says, but I got static in the mental reception. I wish my boss hadn’t assumed I missed the deadline instead of asking me about it before it was too late. I could have resent it then, but it is too late now. I wish that miscommunication hadn’t led to a pointed email yesterday, but it did. I wish I hadn’t compounded the problem by being so self-conscious in front of my boss today that I made a bumbling mess of a routine team meeting. I wish that these examples didn’t currently have me up at 3am panicking that I’m going to be let go at my annual review in August. It’s already so hard to get the sleep I need to function.
RSD isn’t the same thing as jealousy. It causes me to feel pain when I see others’ success, but not because I want what others have or think I can only achieve something myself if someone else doesn’t. Seeing others succeed causes me pain because I feel that I’m unworthy, and seeing someone who is worthy reminds me even more of my shame. A cat may look at a king, but a girl with RSD may not. In my current RSD spiral, I’m still ecstatic to see my readers succeed. I still know the world isn’t a zero-sum game, and, rather than lowering my chances, I still know that every spoonie like me who proves herself first, whether in her career or at The Mighty, makes it more likely that I can ultimately make it, too. That’s part of the problem. It feels like these other women who have gone before are paving a solid road to success with their blood, sweat, and tears, and I’m still stupid enough to trip over it.
I started this blog because there are areas where I feel stuck in life. I’m afraid to buy a home. Living in California during the Great Recession imprinted on me that paying expensive mortgages on coastal homes without a job is a one-way ticket to bankruptcy. Homes aren’t a guaranteed investment anymore, and I’ve watched friends take new jobs in new cities, then have their houses languish on the market for years. I’m afraid I’ll somehow crash and burn through all the jobs in my field as soon as I attempt to put down roots.
I’m in my thirties. The clock is ticking, but I feel too overwhelmed to imagine adding children. I want them, in theory, but while in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is! As my mom said, “if you are struggling with maintaining just a job with your so-called ‘brain fog,’ I don’t see how you can realistically add being a mom.”
I started a blog to help me process these feelings, and, in the process, I found many other blogs by amazing women who own homes, have children, manage multiple chronic physical and mental illnesses, and manage to publish a book on the side. I’m genuinely happy to see my readers kicking stigma’s butt like that. Keep being a standard bearer for spoonies, readers!
I just wish I were one of those standard bearers, too. I wish I were the kind of girl who “showed the way” for younger girls with ADHD. Instead, my job has been kicking my ass this week. Or maybe I should say my own mistakes at my job have been kicking my ass.
I wish I was a stigma buster, but lately my confident words on my first blog post that I need to “risk learning I don’t have the potential I hope I have to have a chance of reaching it if I do” are reading like a double bird flipped at my hopes and dreams. (My RSD helpfully suggests that maybe the naivete of those words is part of why I’m a mediocre writer…)
I finally had gotten to a point where I thought maybe I had enough of a handle on things to take the plunge on life. Instead, ADHD, fibro-or-whatever-it-is, and my own failings apparently decided to team up to kick my ass. Other people are kicking ass and taking names while dealing with more severe ADHD, more chronic pain, and worse struggles than me. If they can do it, it’s hard not to listen to my RSD when it helpfully suggests that the reason that I’m not succeeding, plain and simple, is because I’m just not as good as other spoonies.
I’m glad my readers are proving that being a spoonie doesn’t have to stop us. But, because others succeed in the face of so many more obstacles than me, I can’t justify my own spoonie-ness as a reason for self-compassion. I can’t even call myself a spoonie without feeling like a bit of a hypocrite, especially now that experts at spoonie-ness (The Mighty staff) have stoked my fears that I am not. It’s always easier to believe others about my own worth than myself. I feel like a cheater visiting the bar Alibi. Yes, I’ve been lacking more spoons than usual, but it would be disingenuous to mention it with regards to my personal failings.
Can any of my awesome, accomplished readers help me to begin to regain my confidence? Share with me your stories of failing forward! Share with me your stories of having your writing rejected, of losing your job, or of any other painful personal failures that eventually had a happy ending. Make them stories of real “screw ups” – personal mistakes that you made, with meaningful consequences – not just stories of layoffs or someone else’s mistakes. I need stories where you, my readers, were the dunces, yet you bounced back to become the awesome people you are today! (They might even end up as my first real guest posts!) I need some stories of falling flat on the road to success at first to help pick myself up and keep walking (crawling?) along that path.